My 17-year-old mind was filled with college applications, graduation requirements, and auditioning for the winter play. School had only been in session for a month and I was already feeling overwhelmed with responsibility. My main concern was surviving my final year of high school without having a nervous breakdown. Oh, that and finding a prom date.
That morning I sleepily stumbled out of my calculus class and headed straight for psychology. The classroom was eerily empty and the television was on.
I glanced at the screen, curiously, because I noticed mega-anchor Peter Jennings was speaking, which meant breaking news. A few seconds later, I realized it was a plane crash. A few minutes later, after my brain put together the pieces, I realized the truth.
For the first and only time in my life, I was literally paralyzed. I just sat there, staring straight ahead, with tears streaming down my face.
Before I knew it, I watched, live, as the second plane crashed into the second tower. The ABC cameraman started screaming and the camera started shaking, from his shock.
Was this real? I felt like I was watching an action film. But I wasn't.
Students started trickling in the classroom, giving me strange looks for my appearance.
"Why is she crying?" I heard one girl whisper to another.
As they started to watch the television, however, they grew quiet.
For the rest of the day, nothing else mattered. Everyone talked about it. I remember, in a daze, hearing a stupid cheerleader in my English class remark, "It's those fucking Mexicans, isn't it? I knew they were out to get us!"
When I got home, my parents were already in front of the television, watching the images in horror. Planes colliding with glass and steel. Men on fire jumping out of 20-story windows. Peter Jennings interviewing taxi drivers. Family members begging to know about their loved ones at the Pentagon. And what really did happen aboard that plane which crashed in Pennsylvania?
Tucked away in my little Cleveland suburb, I did not know anyone who had been a victim, but I still felt like my world had collapsed. The world had changed, I could feel it. The air felt strange. The sky looked different. Life had grown one shade darker, permanently.
My friend, Erin, came over that evening and we sat on my porch swing. We didn't even talk, we just sat there, each lost in our own silent thoughts.
I realized my life was never going to be safe again. The United States can be touched. Terrorism was no longer international news. It was right here, before our eyes.
And I felt so ashamed that I didn't see it coming. "Who is this terrorist leader? What is that organization? Why am I just hearing about this now? Oh, it's because I'm a stupid teenage girl and I don't watch the news that carefully. But dammit, I know every single fucking thing there is to know about Britney Spears, don't I?"
I will never forget the chills I felt on that crisp September day. I will never forget the way my heart bled when I saw those gruesome images on television. I will never forget how hard I sobbed into my pillow that night when I thought of all the families who lost a loved one that day.
And now, ten years later, without even closing my eyes, I can still feel that cool fall breeze swaying the porch swing, back and forth, as I desperately grasped for an answer to a question I will never understand: why?